10 After 404

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The last 10 secret pages of John Lennon's massive Nixon-era FBI file are being held up by the feds on grounds of having been obtained from a foreign government (probably the UK's) on condition of confidentiality.

I remember stumbling into a lecture by tireless Lennon-file-opener Jon Wiener at a BeatleFest in the mid-1980s (and so what??), and taking away two indelible impressions: 1) Is the government really that stupid? 2) Is John Lennon's FBI file really worth obsessing about? (Judging by the mostly indifferent and occasionally hostile reaction the poor guy received, many people were with me on that count.)

Anyhoo, it's always interesting in these times of World War IV and propaganda debates to be reminded how keenly the National Security apparatus once obsessed about (and/or covertly funded) the activities of artists, musicians and political journalists. And I think the 25th anniversary of Lennon's death is as good an opportunity as any to to close the apple-shaped circle of revisionist history—he really was the best Beatle, people.

Link via L.A. Observed.

NEXT: Hey, Teachers! Leave Those Kids Alone! (Chapter XXXVIII)

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  1. The best Beatle was Ringo, dammit.

  2. “The best Beatle was Ringo, dammit.”

    I agree, in that he had the least influence over their horrific, off-key caterwauling. He is most blameless, in other words.

  3. I’ll have you know I have “Goodnight Vienna” on vinyl (one of the better nonsensical album covers of all time), and at a recent party when I played “The No No Song” you shoulda seen the jaws just drop….

  4. I agree, in that he had the least influence over their horrific, off-key caterwauling.

    Hey, they were only off-key when they played live, because they couldn’t hear themselves over the screaming.

  5. I hate to say that any of the Beatles was the best. But John’s the only one who might be. Great early solo career, too.

  6. Also, John was the worst. I wish he was alive today so I still had an outside chance to punch him in the face.

  7. LOL.

    Whenever someone hates my music, I just remind myself how many people hate the music of the most popular and influential and critically-acclaimed band of all, and I figure, well why shouldn’t people hate me too?

  8. Imagine all those pages,
    Read by all the world.

    Seriously, if this is the sort of bullshit that the government pulls in the name of “national security”, why, pray tell, would anybody trust them to hold a US citizen without trial or charges, based on secret evidence?

  9. why, pray tell, would anybody trust them to hold a US citizen without trial or charges, based on secret evidence?

    Because they have only our best interests at heart.

    ha ha ha.

  10. Paul had the better voice, and arguably better songwriting.

    I mean, is “Imagine” not the most annoying song ever? “Across The Universe” is a close second.

  11. “Last night the wife said
    Oh boy when you’re dead
    You don’t take nothing with you but your soul..”

    Yeah, real deep, yogi.

  12. I’ve always thought of “All Things must Pass” as the best of the post-beatles albums. But while the band was going strong– well, I’ve always been a Lennonist and always will. Yes, alas, he was a bit annoying and irrelevant in later years, but the author of “Tomorrow Never Knows” just sort of gets to be the best by default. Besides, since he died on the day I came home from the hospital after being born, I’ve always felt a certain sentimental attachment to the guy.

  13. He was the best Beatle only if you ignore the treacly and/or dated crap he spewed after 1965…although “Come Together” isn’t too bad.

  14. I mean, is “Imagine” not the most annoying song ever?

    It’s worse than that. An ode to communism loved by millions, singing it mindlessly.

  15. JDM,

    No one writes good lyrics all the time. Lennon wrote good lyrics a lot of the time.

  16. Steven Crane, “Imagine” is “Ode to Fuck*ng Joy” when compared to Sir Paul’s “Wonderful Christmas Time.”

  17. On a thread like this, would be so easy to stir things up by dropping in an outrageous, but not too outrageous, comment that people can jump on. But I won’t.

    PS: In a way, it was a mercy that old John Lennon did not live to see his star eclipsed by his vastly more talented son Julian.

  18. My fondest BeatleFest memory (1982) was Harry Nillson asking me (at age 9) to get him a drink. I declined, but he graciously scratched his autograph anyway.

  19. 1) Ringo is going to be the “last Beatle standing”, for what that’s worth

    2) thoreau, if there ever was a perfect argument against allowing the government “to hold a US citizen without trial or charges, based on secret evidence”, you’ve made it.

  20. Come on, how has no one stuck up for George Harrison on a libertarian blog? Hmm. . .”Taxman” vs. “Imagine”. . . they’re both pretty musically dismissable, so I’ll take the one bitching about high tax rates.

  21. Check out the comment at the very end of this article. Pretty harsh, but she is a professional shit-stirrer.

  22. Oh, and happy 25th birthday, Eric M.!

  23. The melody of “Taxman” could be argued to be “dismissable,” but the lyrics are great and the guitar solo unprecedented.

  24. Paul was a musical genius. John was not. John was a musical visionary. Paul was not.

    Paul had (still has, when he really puts his mind to it) an innate, once-in-a-generation gift for composition, melody and arrangement that really has no other parallel in rock era. To find his peers, you have to look to the likes of George Gerschwin and Richard Rogers.

    But for all of that, Paul often just didn’t know what to do with his gifts, leading him to craft an awful lot of technically masterful schlock.

    John had the opposite problem. He had lots of big ideas, but didn’t have the chops to execute them. All too often, he was just rewriting “Three Blind Mice” over and over again. His best songs are “atmospheric” pieces — “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Instant Karma,” “Norwegian Wood” — that play to his strenghts by layering unusual instrumentation on top of relatively simple and straightforward (some would say monotonous) compositions.

    Paul at his worst was sacharine, and John at his worst was self-indulgent. They needed each other, both as complements (the idea man and the master of execution) and to smooth over each other’s rough edges. John would ridicule Paul when he got too sappy, and Paul would slap the shit out of John when he got too pretentious.

    They’re a beast with two backs. There is no “best” Beatle, because when you split the two of them apart, neither would have been able to produce what they did together.

  25. Interesting observation, RJ.

  26. R.J,

    Amen.

    Steve Smith,

    No good songs after 1965? “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “She Said She Said, “And Your Bird Can Sing”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “A Day in the Life”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, “I Am the Walrus”, “Dear Prudence”, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, “Julia”, “Sexy Sadie”, “Revolution”, “Because”, and “Come Together” are all either excellent songs or classics, in my opinion.

    “Imagine” has a lovely melody….who gives a shit about the Communist lyrics? “Mother”, “Isolation”, “God”, and “Give Me Some Truth” are also excellent solo Lennon songs.

  27. R.J. — John’s composition was more sophisticated than is usually credited, though certainly a lot of it was Mac-influenced. He was pretty good about writing a song in two wholly separate keys (“Norwegian Wood”), a trick that many writers never even attempt. And his art form was rock & roll, not Broadway musicals, so a little visionaryness, and a lot of anger & persona-sampling, went a long way.

    And that “Three Blind Mice” thing was an interesting observation, but nothing more; it has to do with less than 5% of his interesting work.

    As for Burchill, what a tosser.

  28. Aw, Pete Ham was better than than all of ’em.

  29. he really was the best Beatle, people

    Heresy!

    RJ is absolutely right, which is why Ringo is the best Beatle. While those two are fighting it out Ringo slips through. And “Taxman” was the work of George, not John. “Taxman” was one of the few times George managed to get it right. Please don’t take that away from him.

  30. “Taxman”: Excellent. Bravo George, RIP.

    Nilsson: Double Excellent, and his drinking issues only make him more human. Check out the tribute CD, “For the Love of Harry,” and compare those heartfelt covers to Nilsson’s own versions.

    Lennon: I’ve been to the place in life he was talking about in “Watching the Wheels,” and if he only ever wrote that song he would be a favorite of mine. That he produced so much more is gravy, imho. I still recall where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news that day, oh boy. I went on for years, wondering if the whole event were nothing more than a Yoko Ono performance piece, or perhaps (with her cooperation and participation), a “witness protection” style disappearance, similar to the one that so many Elvis fans suspect him of using to get to his dream job: running a 7-11 in Montana.

    The “best” Beatle: Wasn’t that Mr. Best himself? 🙂

  31. Whatever admirable qualities John possessed were totally overwhelmed by crawling in bed with and foisting that soul-sucking no-tallent assclown upon the world.

  32. Ringo’s the best, hands down. He had the hottest and least irritating wife.

  33. Although I agree with R.J.’s assessment, Russ 2000 has hit the nail upon the head. I just saw the Spy Who Loved Me again and was lost in admiration at the fact that Ringo landed Barbara Bach. Beatlemania, indeed.

    Thinking a little more about R.J.’s point, I recall thinking the same thing about some other groups that split. A great, if lesser, example of this phenomenon is The Police. One could say the same thing about Van Halen, too, which blew after Diamond Dave left. I think the key is to have a rocker aligned with someone with a tendency to sap if unchecked. One of them needs good technical skills, too. Look at Richards and Jagger for another example, though they managed to stay together.

  34. Thinking a little more about R.J.’s point, I recall thinking the same thing about some other groups that split.

  35. Of all the endearing Beatles bashing here, I’d like most to address the description of Imagine as: An ode to communism loved by millions, singing it mindlessly.

    To which I say, yes and no.

    I remember the first conservative I ever really got to know and who made me realize that conservatives could actually make sense and couldn’t just be easily dismissed as stupid and ridiculous as my father always either said or implied; he was a huge Beatles fan. When his turntable was on the fritz he brought four records to my room (this was in college) to listen to: Magical Mystery Tour, Imagine, Beethoven’s 6th and some other classical record. I remember him listening to Imagine and saying something like, “Yeah, wouldn’t this be great, if we could really all live like this, everyone just hanging out?” But he said it with a bit of a sense of irony and mischeif; he was well aware that it wasn’t happening. It’s a dream, that’s why you “imagine” it. Okay, I know the song also calls for everyone to “join us” and it will be different. But you’re supposed to join by imagining. Not one hint about violent overthrow. Rather harmless that. It’s an anthem to utopia, and as we know, utopia, by definition, does not exist. I don’t know if Lennon meant it that way, but it’s got a sweet sadness to it, as if he knew the impossibility himself. Personally, I have no problem with the idea of people “sharing all the world,” as long as no one is being coerced to share what they don’t wanna. Of course, you can’t get there from here. But there’s nothing wrong with the final result itself. Like a science fiction novel based on impossible physics, it’s merely a nice dream. In a sense, it definitely is the definitive ode to Marx’s final stage of Communism, and you’re damn straight about that. But at the same time, by advocating getting there by dreaming rather than violence (and maybe this could have and should have been my only sentence), it’s also a harmless ode to a sweet yet impossible vision of Utopia.

    And one more thing. If you’re gonna hate all anything that springs from leftist POV’s, you’re immediately wiping out a huge chunk of popular music and culture in general. Rather than go there and be an insuferable crank, I merely accept the inevitable paradox of holding a view that’s both a distinct minority and at odds with most of the autistic, oh I’m sorry artistic, community.

  36. “Is the government really that stupid?”

    Yes!

  37. It took me long enough, but I finally got the Titular reference. What a stretch. I like it!

    Baby said she’s leaving on the…

  38. Some very nice points, Fyodor.

  39. A great, if lesser, example of this phenomenon is The Police.

    The important thing to remember about The Police is that even as Sting is holding a benefit for the rainforest, the other two guys are sleeping on park benches.

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